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Discomfort With Same Sex Attractions

Intro

Discomfort about one’s sexual orientation, when it pertains to same-sex attraction leads to psychological distress, characterized by feelings of anxiety, depression and loneliness. It is not uncommon for individuals experiencing such discomfort to exhibit self-destructive behaviors such as suicide, suicide attempts, and alcohol and drug abuse. While not experienced by all homosexual people, young people and those without proper emotional support are thought to be more affected.

The World health organization (WHO) characterizes this condition as a mental disorder termed as Ego-dystonic sexual orientation, when accompanied by the need to change one’s orientation so as to align with the dominant heteronormative narrative.

Cause

During adolescence when young boys and girls start to initiate romantic attachments, they may find that their feelings are at odds with the heteronormative stance of society. Same-sex attraction can therefore lead to individuals feeling lost, conflicted, inferior and shameful because of imagined or real disapproval from society and their peers.

Feelings of alienation may be exacerbated when accompanied by pressure to conform from religious and social institutions. In fact in many countries the illegalization of homosexuality, adds to the stigma faced by such individuals and further marginalizes them.

Risk Factors:

Adolescents are at a greater risk to suffer from distress about their same-sex attraction as they are just beginning to develop such feelings and may not know how to deal with them.

Sexual minority or homosexual adolescents who do not have strong familial relationships, have been found to be more prone to affective stress from homosexual feelings.

The amount of schooling or education one has had also plays a role in how susceptible to feelings of distress homosexuals may be.

Homosexual individuals, adults as well as teenagers, who have not yet “come out” publically are also more at risk.

Clinical Presentation

Homosexual youth are at a much greater risk for mental health problems, including depression. Suicide rates are significantly higher (2 to 3 times) for sexual minorities compared with those for the sexual majority. Same-sex attracted individuals are also far more likely to abuse alcohol and illegal drugs. Social withdrawal and isolation are typically also seen.

Homosexual adults also have a greater risk of self-destructive behaviors pertaining to alcohol and drug abuse. They have higher suicide rates, anxiety, mental disorders and phobias. In addition lesbian women are more prone to obesity, this has been tied to self-esteems issues rather than genetic factors.

Gay men and lesbians may also develop negative attitudes towards same-sex attraction as a result of growing up in a homophobic and prejudiced heteronormative society. This is termed Internalized homonegativity and may further negatively impact the personality, emotions, and behavior of homosexuals.

Diagnosis

Distress over same-sex attraction can lead to a whole gamut of psychological problems and identifying them in homosexual youth and adults will require psychiatric and psychological intervention.

Ego-dystonic sexual orientation is a disorder recognized by the WHO but not by the American psychiatric association’s DSM-V. The disorder is characterized by the persistent need to change one’s sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual because it is at odds with the individual’s self-image. Its diagnosis involves determining whether it meets the criteria laid down by WHO’s diagnostic manual ICD-10. The DSM-V does not include this disorder as it was criticized by psychiatric professionals who viewed the inclusion of the disorder as a way to pathologize homosexuality.

Treatment

Treatment for distress over same-sex attraction will involve addressing those feelings of distress, their outcomes and origins and becoming more comfortable with an individual’s sexual orientation. This can be done with the help of a psychologist , psychiatrist or a trained mental health professional. It is important for affected individuals to realize that their sexual orientation is not a disorder and to deal with feelings of marginalization and social stigma when confronted with a heterosexist society.

It is also advantageous to develop support networks consisting of not just family and friends but also other homosexuals such as those found in LGBT support clubs. This is useful in alleviating feelings of isolation, loneliness and alienation.

Treatment for Ego-dystonic sexual orientation can be controversial as it sometimes centers on changing a person’s sexual orientation and behavior. While psychotherapy and religious treatment have been used to convert sexual orientation, there is no evidence to support whether this is a permanent or even a desirable outcome.

Prevention

A society that is more open to gender variance, more accepting of differing sexual orientations is the most obvious and ideal solution. Currently in many societies, the “othering” of individuals who deviate from the dominant heterosexual discourse is mainly responsible for marginalizing homosexuals.

Family and schools can play an important role in making conditions more conducive to an individual’s acceptance of his/her sexual orientation.In fact in many schools, bullying of LGBT individuals is a huge problem and needs to be addressed by teachers and parents alike.

In large parts of Africa, the Middle East and Asia, homosexuality is illegal and engaging in homosexual sex is a crime. Legalizing homosexuality will go a long way in making it less of a social stigma.